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Times Square’s Ball Drop Building Reinventing Itself as a Year-Round NYC Attraction

It was the building that gave Manhattan’s Times Square its name when The New York Times opened it in 1905 as one of the most celebrated early skyscrapers in a celebrated city.

But after standing mostly empty for the better part of a century, the structure now known as One Times Square, which overlooks the length of Times Square and is best known as the site of the annual New Year’s Eve “Ball Drop,” is undergoing a radical transformation. One Times Square is deep into a $500 million renovation aimed at placing it on the short list of must-visit tourist attractions in New York City.

When it’s complete in 2025, One Times Square will invite tourists to admire the expanse of Times Square to the north from a high-level outdoor viewing platform (pictured above).

The building has long been famous for its billboards. For most of a century, the former Times Tower served as a de facto national bulletin board, offering some of the world’s most premium-priced advertising space.

The update will continue that lucrative tradition, adding upper-level glass windows and wrap-around LED screens. But it will also surrender its interior to big-money advertising by creating 12 floors of “NextGen” digital gallery spaces to be leased to the highest bidder for “experiences” by corporate brands. Open up your Instagram app, because developers are using the word immersive to describe their goals.

The New Year’s Eve Ball on the roof will remain, because the annual attention it grabs generates a bonanza of even more advertising income.

Below, have a look at the extreme renovation of One Times Square through the lens of the popular YouTube channel The B1M, which produces magazine-style mini-documentaries on major construction projects around the world. There are some fun details in this one, including the historical bomb drop that New Yorkers once celebrated the New Year in Times Square by blowing up dynamite. (Why does that seem believable?)

The reimagined structure, which has been gutted and re-clad (and not for the first time), will also contain a small museum to itself. 

There’s a lot of history to appreciate. This oddly shaped 25-story building was built at the south end of the former Longacre Square, once known as the horse-and-carriage hub of New York. When it opened, the Times Tower was the second-tallest skyscraper in the world. It has also been said that the Times‘ owner, Adolph Ochs, commanded such influence over the city at the time that he managed to sneak stylized Confederate flags into the tilework of the then-new subway station beneath it as a tribute to his mother.

In 1907, the Times Tower hosted its first New Year’s ball drop, but just six years later, the building’s heyday as an office address was cut short. The New York Times, stymied by the building’s cramped quarters and the impingement of the new subway tunnels on its basement space, moved a block west.

The building never attracted another prime tenant, but it has always enjoyed a prime location in Times Square, presiding over Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous photograph of a kissing couple on V-J Day, hosting the world-famous 14,800-light bulb news “zipper” that generations of Americans relied on for breaking news, and becoming the first electronic billboard in Times Square.

By the 1960s, its original neo-Gothic terracotta facade had been stripped away and its interior (once used as a firing range) sat mostly vacant. Despite its reduction to a barren shell, One Times Square’s peerless advertising potential still managed to produce profit as a real estate investment.

Most New Yorkers have never even been inside, although in living memory, a few lower floors did serve briefly as an ill-fated Warner Bros. store and one of the world’s most cramped and unsuccessful Walgreens

People might not remain unfamiliar with the building for long. The planned observation deck, in particular, stands to lend the old structure a new purpose. There’s no other expressly built high-level observation deck in Times Square, which could use more daytime tourist diversions besides Broadway matinees as well as a safe space above the bootleg Elmos and grimy Mickey Mouse-costumed scammers down below.

Similar to the renovation of the Depression-era Top of the Rock a few blocks away, the changes at One Times Square, although radical, stand to bring new appreciation to a heritage landmark. Getting a ball’s-eye-view of Manhattan’s epic “Crossroads of the World” could prove to be reinvention that tourists have been waiting for.